An American writer known for his Harlem Detective series, he also published the popular 1945 novel, If He Hollers Let Him Go. He was a recipient of the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere.
He was sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison for armed robbery; he served seven years of this sentence.
He moved to France in the 1950s.
He married Jean Johnson in 1936.
He was a friend of Malcolm X.